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RIYADH: Two Saudi undergraduate students have been granted a patent for a breakthrough discovery that could revolutionize the fight against foot-and-mouth disease, the highly contagious viral disease that can devastate herds and bankrupt farmers.

Fahad Shaya Al-Mutib and Abdullah Fahad Al-Dosari of Prince Sattam Bin Abdulaziz University received the patent from the Saudi Intellectual Property Authority after discovering a chemical component isolated from the plant Peganum harmala, also known as of wild rue or African rue, which is effective against the virus that causes the widely dreaded disease.

Dr. Ahmed Suleiman Al Aliwi, Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy at Prince Sattam Bin Abdulaziz University. (Provided)

Al-Mutib told Arab News that Maged Saad Abdel-Kader, professor of pharmacognosy at Prince Sattam Bin Abdulaziz University, urged the two students to identify a research proposal whose content would include plants with common application in Arabia. saudi.

He said the idea for the study came to him because Peganum harmala is widely used by livestock farmers to treat foot-and-mouth disease, colloquially known as Abu-Hjae’er disease, which can lead to economic losses. important for breeders and breeders.

Vaccination offers the only protection against the disease. If the herds are infected, they are treated with antibiotics and antipyretics, which do not destroy the virus but simply target the symptoms.

Dr. Maged Saad Abdel-Kader, Professor of Pharmacognosy at Prince Sattam Bin Abdulaziz University. (Provided)

Livestock owners have treated “cattle sickness” by soaking a large amount of Peganum harmala in water for at least a day, allowing the plant’s chemicals to dissolve, before giving it to drink to cattle. .

The research of the two students to discover the secret of the plant and identify its useful compounds began in 2019 under the direction of Abdel-Kader.

Professor Gamal Abdulhakim Soliman supervised the partial analysis of the study in collaboration with Professor Hesham Youssef Elzorba, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Cairo University.

The research was carried out in stages, starting with collecting the plant, then extracting and fragmenting it for different extracts, and finally sending it to the virology laboratory of the Armed Forces Hospital for Veterinary Medicine at the Cairo.

A patent for “the extraction and isolation of a new compound of Rhazya stricta active against foot-and-mouth disease virus picornavirus” to the two Saudi researchers ِSaudi pharmacognosy researcher Fahad Shaya Al-Mutib and Abdullah Fahad Al-Dosari . (Provided)

Abdel-Kader said the two students faced significant challenges, including finding a lab capable of conducting experiments on the target virus.

The other challenge was time, as transferring samples to Egypt and waiting for results was a long process. However, everything went well.

“I normally don’t reject any student suggestions, but I always urge them to discuss their ideas with me,” he said. “The two most common reasons for rejecting a study subject are that the required experiments cannot be completed or that the same research has already been conducted.”

Ahmed Suleiman Al-Aliwi, Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy at Prince Sattam Bin Abdulaziz University, said, “The university seeks to promote the research process by providing financial and research support through the development of research programs . It also encourages researchers to publish in international scientific journals and allows researchers to focus on the applied research the world needs.

He said the college’s interest in researchers manifests itself in a variety of ways, including “holding periodic workshops and forming research groups of mutual interest to spark ideas and strengthen research.”

According to Al-Dosari, the biggest challenge the two researchers faced was the use of multiple separation methods and the purification process, “but the team was able to separate seven compounds.”

The structural composition of the separated compounds was examined using spectroscopic and chemical methods, and what emerged was the presence of two compounds with a complicated structure.

“We used to work in the drug lab after school hours and sometimes until after midnight, including during annual holidays, and during Ramadan for five to six hours a day during the fasting period” , Al-Dosari said.

The two students continued their research until December 2020, more than five months after graduation.

The pure compounds were again tested against foot-and-mouth disease virus. “The most effective was a new chemical that had never been discovered before, neither from natural sources nor synthetic,” Al-Dosari said.

Working with Abdel-Kader “was a dream come true”, the two students acknowledged, as the Egyptian academic offered a wealth of experience in scientific research and inventions in the field of medicines.

Abdel-Kader said he was eager for students to master all stages of the research conducted in the college’s labs – from extracting and purifying compounds to identifying their composition.

Al-Dosari said: “The opinion of friends and relatives, as well as their good comments, made us believe that what we had done was incredible and worth the effort and the fatigue, and that gave us no doubt given a moral boost for future creativity in the field of study.”

Al-Mutib added: “Thank God, after two years of effort, we are reaping the rewards. We were graduate students who became researchers and inventors.

Al-Dosari, who currently works as a marketing representative for Hikma Pharmaceuticals, is a final-year master’s student in pharmacognosy at King Saud University and hopes to obtain a doctorate in pharmacognosy and join the department’s faculty.

Al-Mutib is a quality controller at Hikma — Jazeera Pharmaceutical Industries, and intends to continue his graduate studies in quality control and business management.

Abdel-Kader hopes to communicate with pharmaceutical companies to deliver the compound or extract as a medicine that can be marketed in the Kingdom and abroad.

Al-Aliwi said the university’s goal is “to actively engage with stakeholders, including entering into joint cooperation agreements with relevant universities and entities to develop the research process and benefit from human resources represented by distinguished researchers and professors to provide consultation and support to both sides to align with the Saudi vision, strengthen investment and diversify the economy.

Marjorie N. McClure